Monday, 20 March 2017

While My Violin Gently Weeps

The first instrument I (attempted) to learn was the violin. I loved the sound and it stirred up some pretty intense emotions in my ten year old self. Mistakenly I thought I could produce those strong emotive sounds. What would become my first failure of many, I quit after a few months of putting my family through those screeching cat impersonations.

So that brings us now to today. Quite spur of the moment I've decided to give it another go. While in Japan, a lot of people use Craigslist to find bargains (especially Indian people, go figure), in Australia it is Gumtree that a lot of people use. I guess it's that Eucalyptus-evoking name that draws us to it (even though it's origin in British).

From listening to a few YouTube videos I thought the Yamaha SV130 sounded the best, and it just so happened someone in Tasmania had one for sale. I trusted the seller and thankfully it arrived without any problems. I chose an electric violin so I could practise silently, but I'm surprised the unplugged volume is louder than a guitar. Another plus is if I can record it much easier, and it has a built-in reverb. Both acoustically and through headphones the tone is real nice. It comes in quite a few colours but I think this sparkly red is the best.

Tuning it was so different to a guitar! I turned the pegs and they would NOT stop slipping. I followed this. Gotta love YouTube. I wish it existed when I was learning guitar too. From the library I also borrowed out "Violin for Dummies" so I'm on my way!

Now I think knowing the guitar has helped me with music theory, intervals and so on. My thinking to produce those lovely sounds I desire is that I need to work on bowing correctly, getting my intonation down, and chasing that elusive vibrato. I prefer to pitch by ear so I'm not using dots or tape to mark first position. With my iPhone I've downloaded Cleartune and Tonal Energy Tuner. The latter is particularly useful in that it can record the playing and analyse that the intonation is correct. This looks really useful in quickly finding notes in guitar solos, so double yeah! Another similar app I have tried is Syaku8. It's a very small PC program, but I've managed to use it on a Mac if you are running Wine.

So why am I posting this on my blog? My excuse is the violin is Japanese and Syaku8 was originally scripted by 日本人. In reality I'm posting this the day I got it, and a blog is pretty handy to document when I started this fool's errand. I've been practising every day, so I may even surprise myself!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Three Years in exile from Japan

The saddest thing was booking my one way plane ticket. Or was it the exit gate when they verified I was leaving Japan for the last time as a resident? The hole punched through my resident card felt physical.

I can't believe three years have already gone by and I know I'm going to sound like a broken record that I miss the place.

Every time I see a music video of Tokyo I identify quickly the locations, my mind hungry to make that connection. Most recent that comes to mind is this one. In it you can see Shimbashi station. Behind the platform there is a building I used to work in. The area is a bit dodgy at night and I heard a rumour there were some interesting "services" provided for on a different level.

Speaking of work, I am still working casually. It looks like that is just the way things go here. Thankfully they keep me on, although some days I feel a bit of imposter syndrome. A positive is that students I have taught in the past still say hello and I've heard from management they enjoy my teaching. Students are a mixed bag. I get the feeling some of them are just here on parent's money: Here to play games, messaging on phones and staying up all hours. Having said that, most are motivated and I like hanging out with them.

I often look at Google street view to see how Tokyo has changed.  To my surprise a whole block on the main road in Yotsuya has been razed for a new development. I hate this as it's changing my memory of it. The old Hidakaya that I got my noodle fix is gone!

Since I came back I've become a bit of a AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego). Weird right? How does that relate to Japan? Well, walking in Iidabashi there was an old office building that had small lego models behind the front glass window that the owner shifted the curtain to display to passers by. They caught my eye and that triggered a bit of an obsession I now have.

A lot of the sets I particularly like are the UCS Star Wars models. On the collectors market these cost a LOT of money. So what's a poor English teacher to do? Buy knock off copies on Aliexpress! The Imperial Shuttle was a fun build and looks fantastic. The Porsche was a pain to build but looks pretty special. While I hate the actual tedious construction, the end result makes me somewhat proud. Only problem is the place to put them. Currently I'm building the ISD and it is truly colossal! On a side note I haven't bought any more music gear, so I replaced one addiction with another.

Food-wise I found a reasonably cheap tabehodai place, Shabu house in Mary St. Prices are $27-36 depending on day and time. I won't say the food quality will blow you away, but for the price it's not too bad. In the same building there is a similarly priced yakiniku joint, Hanwoori. I haven't had the chance to check it out yet but it piques my interest for sure. On the icecream front Haagen Dazs has returned to Australia! I've tried the salted caramel (good!), but sadly none of the crazy flavours from Japan have made it here. Connoisseur have a green tea icecream which can be had for half price at times, but they have white chocolate flakes throughout. I won't say it's bad, but not quite up to the standard in Japan.

What else have I done? I bought a DJI drone, but after a few times of playing it's been mostly in the box. Boys and their toys.

When will I be back in Japan? I'm not really sure. One of my friends still there says he is contemplating his exit and says he might go back after September. What would be sadder for me would be to go back and everyone gone, so hopefully I can return again soon.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Disney Sea

One of life's big decisions - Disneyland or Disney Sea?

 In the end Disney Sea won out. Ride-wise it's a no-brainer. I accidentally left my Mickey t-shirt here so my clothing for the day was easily decided. Coming along for the ride was my Mickey popcorn holder.

I won't repeat too much from what I said last time. You can read those details here.

One thing I wasn't counting on were the sh*tloads of high schoolers running riot. We didn't realise it was a holiday for them. This of course made the lines almost unbearably long and tiring. Even the line for the must-have curry popcorn took ages.

Highlights for today. The small girl holding her teddy bears, bawling her eyes out after riding the Tower of Terror (2nd row, seat 3 above), Aquatopia being closed (crap ride), and Toy Story Mania being as much fun as it was last time.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Tobu Zoo

As well as going to all the places I hold dear in my memory while I was here, I always wanted to do things that even while I was here I never got around to doing.

I don't know exactly what led me to this place but I remember I had stumbled across Tobu Zoo while looking online at Theme Park Reviews. Mind you this review dates back to 2004 which I hadn't noticed, and quite a few rides are no longer there anymore :(

Why would you go there? Two Words - Kawasemi and Regina. Oh and they also tacked on a zoo to this theme park!

Kawasemi was great. It's not the longest ride, but the drops, especially the first one is intense! Regina is a large wooden coaster. Not as smooth as Kawasemi, quite rickety but still worthwhile. We went on both twice. I know rebel, right?

The other rides are typical show/ basic theme park quality, but what is fantastic about this place is that it's nowhere near as crowded as f**kin' Disney! Imagine not waiting hours for one ride. *bliss*

Others have said not so nice things about the zoo part, but I thought it was a nice addition to the park and added some value to the price of admission. Highlights here were the white tigers and penguins. Must love penguins. Oh, and killer geese.

I'm hoping that the relative lack of people coming doesn't turn Tobu Zoo into Tokyo's version of  Nara Dreamland. I'm guessing they removed a few of their rides because they were getting into disrepair. It looks like their first ferris wheel (not operational) is already getting that trendy haikyo look urban explorers are going for.

Tobu Zoo is in Saitama. To get there catch the Tobu Skytree line to Tobu-Dobutsukoen station. While there is a bus, it's an easy 500m south-west walk virtually beeline. The entrance is on the northeast corner of the park. Just make sure you DON'T walk along the river path or you'll go too far in the wrong direction.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Odaiba and Sumo

I didn't plan my holiday very well. I didn't know what I wanted to do so I more or less decided to just "go with the flow". One consequence of this was finding out sumo tickets and the Studio Ghibli museum that I later thought to go were sold out.

 We kept a look out at the ticket shops and found a pair of inflated price tickets. They were cheaper than most tickets we saw but later found out they were seats in the last row of the sumo arena.

We decided to go to Ryogoku via the water bus from Odaiba. Catching the train to Tamachi, we walked across the rainbow bridge to Odaiba. The waterbus was popular so we had to book a later time about an hour later which gave us a bit more time to look around here and less time to watch sumo :(

 There happened to be a Mexican festival with music, stalls and wrestling. We had a nice syrup slurpy to cool us down from all the walking. We walked to the big Gundam for the obligatory photo and had a look around Venus Fort. Unfortunately we got separated here and almost missed the departure of our water bus!

It was my first time to take the water bus on Tokyo Bay. There are two kinds of water bus. One where  it looks like some kind of spacecraft (where you cannot go outside), and the other allows you to walk around the roof. Thankfully we had the latter type which allowed me to take photos from the really unique perspective of the bay. Highly recommended. More information about the water bus can be found here.

Although arriving at the arena later than we hoped, we still managed to see plenty of wrestling matches. Even though I've seen it before I didn't get bored. It's one of those things that you only really see in Japan so always worthwhile. Even though we were in the last row, the view was still good. This time I bought my camera with battery along with my super zoom lens so pictures turned out great.

After sumo we went to Yoyogi because I wanted to have yakiniku at least once this trip. We opted for the cheapest place, Gut's Soul. You know it's cheap when the whole place is filled with high school students :P

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Zushi the sequel

Today I went back to Zushi. Look how good that weather is!

The weather had been a bit iffy so I was thinking I wouldn't get a chance to return. For me Zushi is one of my zen places where I remember some of my happiest and not so happy times in Japan. It also reminds me of my favourite beaches I love in Australia like Burleigh Heads and Cape Hillsborough.

Like last time there were mostly windsurfers. Strangely enough some foreigners were having a beach BBQ playing loud music and drinking alcohol. I read they had banned all of the above which made me think that Zushi was going to lose everything that was fun about it. Seeing this put a smile on my face.

This was around the same time of year that I got massively stung by jellyfish, so I was more than wary of the same thing happening again. I had my cans of chu-hi but I wasn't going to run in head first again.

I did get a few stings from what we call sea lice in Australia. It made me feel uncomfortable for the rest of the week, but I'm glad I had a second chance to come here.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Mitsuo Outlet Costco

I went to Costco in Japan WAY back in 2009 when I went camping with some other teachers. At the time I thought it was cool to buy some foreign food that was hard to buy in the regular supermarkets but I never thought to get a membership.

I think that one was near Sagamino. I didn't really know where we were because I didn't drive. Recently I found out there was one only about a kilometre away from where I lived in Tomioka, Kanagawa! I really regret not exploring more when I lived there.

So today armed with my Australian Costco membership I thought it'd be a good opportunity to see how different it is to the local version.

Although there is a closer Costco in Kawasaki, we opted to go to the Kanazawa Seaside (closest to Tomioka). We also wanted to check out the marina and Mitsuo outlet stores not too far from Costco. To get there we caught the Keikyu Seaside line (change to it at Shin-Sugita), and got out at Torihama. Note that this is where to get out only for the Mitsuo Outlet/marina!

The place is quite nice. I took a few photos here. We looked at some interesting shops. She liked a watch in the Seiko store, and I bought a cool Graniph t-shirt to replace the similar one I gave to my brother. There was a Lego store but the prices were normal. I couldn't find a R2D2 keyring. I had bought a new one but darned if I can find it.

She had in mind to catch the train to get closer to Costco, but I didn't think it was that far away. Being a hot sweltering day it definitely felt longer to get there. My bad.

Costco in Japan is quite similar to back home but definitely more "Japanified". Here you can buy a sushi tray which sadly they don't do in Australia. The bagels have a few extra flavours too. They had samples out like in Australia but whereas there isn't any formal etiquette to getting said sample, here people LINED UP to receive their sample. I actually got told off for not following local custom. I am a BAD, BAD gaijin ne.

We bought what we could practically carry to the station. We first walked the wrong way back but soon got back on track. The closest train station is Sachiura station.

If I was still living there I think I would've got a membership. Access to western food in Japan, while available, is fairly limited. For 4,000 yen (+tax) I think it's definitely worth it, probably more so than here in Australia.